A couple of weeks back, I received an advance copy of Tia Keenan’s new Cheese Book: The Art of the Cheese Plate and let me start with… the book itself is a work of art!!
The photographs by Noah Fecks are exquisite and Tia’s food styling is breath-taking. The entire book, page after page, is mesmerizing. I found myself drooling my way through it.
Of late, thanks in part to the stylings of Lilith Spencer, cheese plating has become a hot topic which the UK’s Daily Mail referred to as a “craze”. Tia’s book goes beyond just plating and presentation and delves into pairings and why pairings “work”. The thirty-seven plates in this book include no more than three cheeses, one purchased accompaniment and two prepared at home. The recipes and prep instructions are included in the book. Rather than create what Tia refers to as a “communal board”, her boards are well thought-out and easy to prepare with little waste. What she likes to call “more bounce per ounce”.
Every cheese in the book is amazing; specialty, handmade or farmstead. To create an exceptional plate, you need exceptional ingredients. Industrial cheese, even when paired with artisan jams and jellies will still be an industrial cheese. And you’ll find when serving top-drawer ingredients you will need less, making your plates special without breaking the budget.
(As an aside, in the past two years I have lost more than sixty pounds without suffering or eliminating most of the foods I love. I’ve asked myself what changed and realized I began cooking and baking more; seldom eating out; buying higher quality, less processed foods across the spectrum from cheeses to meats – only organic when available – to fresh CSA farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. One result is that my satisfaction level is higher with smaller portions.)
Tia’s introduction is a Cheese 101 to assist the reader in understanding the fundamentals of cheese and pairing, including a cutting guide. Included in her introduction are charts detailing cheese types, flavor fundamentals and textures. All of these are designed to help you when buying cheese and when describing the cheese to your guests.
Some of the homemade accompaniments read as poetry and are almost as intimidating until you read the recipe and invariably you will say, “Oh, I can make that.” For example, “Green Peppercorn Meringue” sounds exotic but only has three ingredients: green peppercorns, egg whites and sugar. And the recipe is barely more difficult than “easy”. I also learned why my mom never made divinity on a rainy day when I read this recipe: meringue makes better in less humidity… on dry days…
You can use Tia’s cheese plates exactly as she plans them or use your own imagination and let them be a starting place for your own “art of the cheese plate”.
© The art of the Cheese Plate by Tia Keenan, Rizzoli New York 2016. All photographs © Noah Fecks, but no images may be used, in print or electronically, without written consent from the publisher. Serial rights are available, please contact Jessica Napp @ 213 387 3436 or jnapp (at) rizzoliusa.com.